Dave Reddin is the former head conditioning coach for the English National Rugby team. It is generally acknowledged that his innovations in conditioning for Rugby Union were a major factor in the English 2003 World Cup win. Dave was educated at Loughborough University, universally recognized as the cradle of coaches for it’s renowned physical education curriculum.
What are most essential requirements for a successful conditioning program?
A thorough needs analysis of the sport, and the position the athlete plays within that sport, allied to a comprehensive profile of the athlete- top to toe, heart to head, background to foreground.
What are the most common mistakes in conditioning?
Assuming what works for one, works for all. Not understanding the concept of thresholds of need in conditioning i.e. string enough, fast enough etc, not as strong as you can make them, fast as you can make them etc. Overall, perhaps related to the above question, failure to work with others in an inter-disciplinary team. So many people work in silos- S & C in the gym, coaches on the field, nutritionists in the lab etc- sharing information in the profile is the most important concept and the least well practiced.
What is functional training from your point of view?
I try to keep it simple- it needs to be so I can understand it. Functional for me means training what makes a difference to performance (in every respect), not training what you are good at training. Functional is a bout, therefore understanding the sport and finding the simplest way to get the most performance improvement in the minimum time for the athlete, so they have maximum time available for all the other stuff they need to do.
What do you do to make training more functional?
Analyse- video, biomechanics, talking to coaches and athletes, previous programmes, movement patterns. I then try to get to the fundamental movements and actions and energy systems which matter. To make something more functional, I don’t necessarily make it look more like the sport, but the fundamental movements, actions and energy systems must relate. i.e. I can do a functional conditioning session for a skier on a rowing machine.
How important is specificity?
Generally, it’s really important to me, but specificity is not the same as ‘looks like’. Specificity in terms of fundamental movements, specificity of muscle actions, speed specificity, energy system specificity are really important to me. However, there will be times, with certain athletes, with limited training time, and limited history, where I will hit them hard generally, by which I suppose I mean I build a base for them- professional soccer players are a good example here. Their strength history is very limited, so I may include exercises which are incredibly non-specific to their activity, just to get some horsepower into the system. This for me has produced great results as the gym time vs the pitch time is so limited. We end up with a combination of very general in the gym, and very specific on the field.
What aspect of conditioning athletes is most difficult and how have you tried to address it?
In many ways, true power training is tough, or at least has been in the past. Athletes thrive on feedback in my experience, and so lifting something maximum feels good as they can see the load increasing week by week. Without feedback, lifting, throwing or dragging moderate loads really explosively, it can be tough to engage the athlete and I think in the past this area has suffered as a result. Using feedback systems, e.g. jump mats, micro-muscle lab, Rob Newtons Ballistic measurement systems etc really helps in this regard as it gets the athlete engaged through competition with themselves and the rest of the squad.
With the plethora of information available how can you determine what is best?
Read it all, be sceptical of it all, and keep coming back and challenging your basic principles. I normally assume, rightly or wrongly, that if something is heavily publicised and advertised, then its probably too good to be true. Whilst I am a disciple of the placebo effect, I also know that much of what is promoted as cutting edge with joe public doesn’t work with bill elite. I also spend a lot of time talking to old experienced guys like you Vern who’ve been there, tried most of it, and generally save me a lot of time!
Where do you stand on nature versus nurture? How much difference can training make?
The potential to be a champion is in the genes, but the environment determines whether someone makes it or not. The wrong training can make a huge difference! With the best athletes, I think we must constantly assess what we can really add, unless we understand their sport as they do. Many coaches suffer by forcing their doctrine on their athlete. I think I’m always surprised about how little of the right training it takes to make a significant difference, and how much of the wrong stuff it takes before things go really wrong. In other words, training is the icing on the cake for the best athletes, whose talent tends to win through almost in-spite of the training sometimes. I also believe, the less talent the athlete has, the more difference training can make.
What is the sure sign that a self proclaimed conditioning guru is not a good source of advice?
They are always proclaiming how good they are instead of letting the results speak for themselves. The real gurus are the ones no-one knows.
What do you differently with the female athlete in terms of conditioning?
Nothing- same process- assess the individual requirements and profile and build the plan
What has been the biggest innovation in training that you have seen during the course of your career and where is the biggest room for innovation in training athletes?
Biggest innovation?- would have to say the internet and the ability to communicate more easily and access information. Biggest room for innovation- feedback in training and monitoring of athletes
What’s the biggest issue in training athletes today?
Young athletes who get too much done for them too early and who fail to appreciate the need for pure hard work
Who has been a role model in your career and why?
My good friend Craig White- he is constantly looking for different approaches and information, inspires his athletes and has great standards
What are the biggest professional challenges have you had to face?
Working (now) in new sports where the coaches are close-minded and require significant education and re-education. Also the challenge of working effectively but remotely from athletes- technology is a great help, but there is never a real replacement to hands on
What do you enjoy most about what you do? Dislike?
Like : the challenge of sport and of understanding what it is about each person you work with that can make a difference to them. The buzz of competition.Dislike : Administration! Did there come a time in your career where you were faced with a fork in the road? If so, do you ever revisit the decision you made ordidn’t make? Recently when after leaving England rugby after 10 years I had to decide whether to stay in the game, or to look at other sports. Not as simple as it sounds when you’ve perhaps become institutionalised! Havent regretted moving on from rugby for a second. I had great and life changing experiences there, but to apply your principles elsewhere is a bigger challenge. I’ve learned so much in the last 12 months- wish I’d done it earlier!
What inspired you to get into the field you are in?
If you can’t play (to a high enough level)â€¦â€¦ coach!
Is failure ever valuable?
It should always be valuable if the reflection is honest and open-minded. Great lessons get learnt from failure. However, I do think most people, teams and coaches spend way too much time analysing failure and attempting to learn the lessons from it, but hardly any time analysing success (their own and that of others). There is at least as much to learn from that, its just that we are so often so busy enjoying being successful, we don’t always acknowledge the reasons for it at the time. That can be dangerous when failure comes, as it always does at some time, as you may find yourself throwing the baby out with the bathwater.
Which changes now taking place in your field that should be encouraged, and which resisted?
Encourage : greater sharing of information, and much greater applied research i.e. problem solving research. I would love to see more of an approach in sport which relies more on case studies from elite athletes as opposed to some of the nonsense that comes from some of the more academic studies. Statistical significance can be a severe barrier to progress in sport- the margins are much smaller than science can often reveal, and the population specificity of any study also calls into question the application of many of the findings to real world elite sport. We would all learn more if more coaches were prepared to share case studies of their own experiences with elite athletes. Resist : Gimmickry and packaging of simple concepts into complex marketing spin. If you want to get strong, lift a heavy rock, â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦if you want to get quick, run fastâ€¦â€¦.. sometimes we can get too far away from the fundamentals.